A guest post by Marc
Amongst the names of Palestinian prisoners freed by Israel in the second wave of releases in exchange for Gilad Shalit was a man named Tastos Zaki Husni Sultan.
(Full list available here and in English here though only the Hebrew actually states the crimes they were indicted for).
I remember well the day we arrested him in his home town Nablus. Though it wasn’t what he eventually was convicted of, we were told at the time by the Shin Bet that the main reason he was important to the terrorist networks was that he was the link between Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Hezbollah.
We were also told that he would be armed and ready to fight when we came for him. He was convicted for (forgive the direct translations from the Hebrew):
“Firing at people, throwing Molotov cocktails, membership in an unknown terrorist organization, providing shelter to terrorists.”
The mission resulted in the arrest of both Tastos and another terrorist named Jamal Sa’adon.
Both were among the top 5 most wanted terrorists in the city and we had rehearsed the operation that would ultimately result in their capture many times. It was in 2004 (when I was approaching the end of my service) that that we grabbed them. We had already aborted the operation in various stages of carrying it out many times due to last-minute intelligence telling us that he was no longer in the hideout we were targeting.
The operation was considered so sensitive that military vehicles had been forbidden from driving past the apartment block that his family lived in for fear that it would spook him from returning there and ruin our chances of picking him up.
We were guarding the settlement of Migdalim when we were told to get our body armour on and pile into the vehicles. I didn’t think that the op was going to go ahead after it had already been aborted so many times, but the drivers gunned their engines and we were off. I waited for the mission to be aborted right up until the point that the vehicles stopped outside the building and we launched out into the hostile territory outside.
Once the residents of the block had been brought out of the building the search team went in, and no one was under any doubt that this man would come quietly. I spotted a hand emerge from the building to close a window when everyone was supposed to be outside. The squad commander directed the search team to an apartment they had already searched.
After the 2nd unsuccessful search they took no chances, and threw in a grenade.
Once the noise of the explosion died down the search team could hear muffled cries of surrender coming from somewhere deep within. A hand emerged from a kitchen cabinet that was only waist-high. The terrorists had pulled a small brick out of the back of this cabinet and squeezed into a tiny hollow that they had carved out behind it.
We had only expected to find Tastos, so Sa’adon was an extra surprise, who had previously spent 17 years in an Israeli prison.
After serving that term, he murdered the son of the mayor of Nablus by mistake while trying to kill the mayor – who he evidently considered to be too moderate. The list of his crimes was endless and he was not one of those released in the deal for Shalit.
Tastos had been a wanted man in the Casbah of Nablus for years prior to finally being captured. He had been responsible for terror attacks that had undoubtedly resulted in deaths of innocent civilians, and provided a level of technical sophistication to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade that allowed them to perpetrate attacks and gain information that otherwise wouldn’t have been available to them.
But when the army came for him, when he was looking death in the face, he knew better than the fellow terrorists he inspired and so chose prison instead – despite the fact that he was armed when he surrendered.
Tastos is just one out of a thousand people who have now been thrown back into the mix for Gilad Shalit.
There is no right or wrong answer to the question of whether it was worth it or not.
The whole country breathed a collective sigh of relief when Gilad came home and now we all just have to wait and see what damage terrorists like Tastos may do.